Pomona president: racism protests come from inability to fight Trump

Pomona College President David Oxtoby says students’ frustration at their inability to “do anything about Donald Trump” is the reason they are holding racial protests on campus across the country.

“There are lots of things going on in the world around them and it may sound like they're focusing on this one little thing,” Oxtoby told HuffPost Monday. “Well, the reason they're focusing on this little thing is that they can't do anything about Donald Trump.”

He speculated that many students have become irritated at Trump’s refusal to moderate his language or behavior in response to criticism, and are merely seeking an outlet through which they can affect the national political debate.

Oxtoby shared those insights as part of an interview conducted by HuffPost for an article detailing the reactions of three college presidents to recent racial demonstrations on their campuses, each of whom expressed varying degrees of admiration and sympathy for the student activists.

At Pomona, which is part of the Claremont College system in California, students presented Oxtoby with a list of demands in November calling for various initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion at the school—just days after the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Claremont McKenna College resigned amid student complaints that she had not done enough to create “safe spaces” on campus.

[RELATED: Claremont dean resigns following student protests]

Rather than resisting the more excessive elements of the ultimatum (such as instituting diversity quotas and publicly acknowledging the school’s institutional racial), as some other administrators have done to their ultimate chagrin, Oxtoby said he viewed the demands as a “cry for help” and that he was enthused at the chance to become involved in the discussion.

[RELATED: Safe spaces spawn at Claremont Colleges]

“Being engaged in the issues of the day is what we want our students to be doing and I want to be a model in that,” he explained. Conceding that there might be “a little bit” of selfishness underlying the protest movement, he nonetheless emphasized that the central motivation is “students really caring about each other.”

Davidson College President Carol Quillen offered a similar interpretation, saying students are not asking administrators to eliminate all instances of offensive language or action, but rather to demonstrate a genuine commitment to fostering conciliatory attitudes within the school community.

“I don't think they're saying 'Fix my problem,' or, 'My feelings are hurt, you need to tell the person to say sorry’,” Quillen argued. “I think they're saying, 'You make claims about what you believe in and we would like you to live in a way that reflects your values, that's what you ask us to do’.”

As a college administrator, “your job isn't telling that other student to shut up; your job is to give [the victim] what [they] need to go from this experience of marginalization and pain to a political position,” she clarified. “That's what education does, and insofar as we're not doing that for them, we need to do that better.”

President John Williams, Jr. of Muhlenberg College went further still, asserting that institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to foster tolerance in students, not just equip them to handle instances of intolerance.

“That's what the black students and students of color are looking for,” he opined. “They're [not] looking for this to be a place that nobody ever does anything or says anything racist, but [a place where] when somebody does, their friends or everyone else around them says, 'Hey dude, that's not what we're about. That's not who we are,' as opposed to silently putting your head down and being a silent bystander.”

School officials likewise have an obligation to take a stand against offensive speech, he added, recalling the racial tensions that were sparked at Muhlenberg in November by remarks made on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak— described in the Allentown Morning Call as “racist jokes” by individuals who had seen the posts.

[RELATED: Feminist groups want schools to be required to monitor social media]

Williams responded by hosting an impromptu town hall meeting at which he announced the formation of a Diversity Advisory Council to monitor race relations on campus, and also reiterated the school’s commitment to attracting more minority students in the future.

These days, Williams said “I monitor Yik Yak at our college” to stay at the forefront of any potential incidents, adding, “I have the app right here on my phone.”

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